Monday, December 19, 2005

How Big is Your Church?

Disclaimer: I once joined a church that had over 5,000 members. Later I joined a church that had 120 members. Most recently I joined a church as one of 6 founding members.

Joel Osteen’s much trumpeted move into the former Compaq Center in Houston (with a seating capacity of 57,000) along with an old work associate’s move into the LA Forum have got me to thinking. Can a church get too big?

On the one hand, I pray for churches to get too big all the time! Big churches should be the result of many conversions, and what could be better than that?

On the other hand, I am increasingly chagrined by the value most North American’s place on size. There is an assumed belief that if something is big then it is right. Even amongst pastors, the question, “How is the work going?” is often nothing more than a veiled query as to the number of congregants.

I don’t think the Bible teaches a “target number” for churches, but I will offer my opinion. I think a better model than erecting stadium-sized churches is starting new smaller ones. Maybe I will defend that opinion in another post, but for now, I will just offer these questions to those of you in the mega-church.

  • Do you know everyone in your church?
  • Can you reasonably shepherd the soul of each member?
  • Is the money spent in development and maintenance of facilities more then the money spent in ministry?
  • Could some people in the church be better served by planting another church closer to their geographical location?
  • Does the congregation value a close walk with God evident by a deep, personal spirituality more than boasting in the size of the gathering?
  • Would the church last if the government took its facilities away from them?


  1. Great points! Your questions are helpful and I couldn't agree more that we ought to focus more on planting new churches before we focus on building a larger church. The current church I am at has stated that before we build a building we will plant a church. I think that's a good policy to establish early on.

    Is that not what we are called too? Multiplying individual discples, small groups, and churches! And multiplying men or teams who will be sent out to plant those churches.

    Do you know of any churches who are doing this effectively?

    Here's another question to add to the discussion as well -- what do you do when you have an incredibly gifted preacher? Ie. John Piper, John MacArther, etc. I would love to hear any thoughts on how we ought to steward men like this?

    Alright, one do you balance the sovereignty of God in all this, the desire to see as many saved as possible, and the reality that more numbers can actually mean in some cases, more evidence of God's grace.

  2. Hi Jason,
    The one church I have seen really knock this out of the park is First Fundamental Bible Church pastored by Alex Montoya. I think they have planted over 16 new works now! They keep growing the mother church then sending a group out with trained pastors to begin new works. I think it is a fantastic model.
    As for the Piper's and MacArthur's of the world - my two cents. First of all, there aren't very many of them! Second of all, they tend to be located in huge population centres (although so is Montoya). Third of all, I love the vision of Bethlehem to allow for as many as possible to sit under Piper's ministry, without building a monolith to his name. Seems to me that strikes a nice balance of acknowledging one man's unique giftedness, but not ending up with a Metropolitan Tabernacle (with no offense intended at all to the Met Tab folks!).
    And I know what you mean as far as the glory of God is concerned. I wonder though if we think too little of His glory in the salvation of one sinner? Not that I am thinking that of you, since I know your heart to evangelize! But I am saying this about evangelicalism in general. I long for an oupouring of the Spirit wherein thousands are converted... but I case I am suggesting that they don't all have to attend the same church. :-)
    Keep preaching, brother!

  3. Your last question is an especially good one. A church that is really a church (a branch of the Body of Christ that care for one another), then it should be able to survive without a special building. If the church building burned to the ground, the members would continue to meet together, pray together, and generally be friends with one another.

    I've never gone to a "mega-church." I have a hard time imagining what the community aspect must be like. I know that many such churches use "cell groups" to foster closer relationships. From some stories I've heard, it seems that the cell groups are more like churches than the church as a whole.

  4. Great post Pastor!! I think there is somthing to be said for 'smaller churches' but we all long for the Lord to bless us inorder that we may glorify Him! Praise be to God!